Survey: Net Users Don't Care About Opt-In, Opt-Out

Most Internet users don't care whether e-mail arrives on an opt-in or opt-out basis, according to a new survey.

Seventy-two percent of the 1,760 participants in the study, dubbed iCustomer Observer, said they have no preference as to how they receive e-mails and Internet newsletters, said Chuck Curtis, CEO of Valentine Radford Advertising, Kansas City, MO, the ad agency that conducted the survey.

Valentine Radford tapped e-mail list developer NetCreations for 25,000 double-opt-in e-mail addresses it used to find the 1,760 participants. Double opt-in refers to an e-mail address gathering process under which registrants to an e-mail list must respond to a confirmation message to verify they have opted in.

Valentine Radford offered 25 prizes of $100 each as an incentive to get recipients to respond.

When asked whether they preferred opt-in or opt-out, 23 percent of participants favored opt-in, and 5 percent favored opt-out. The rest said they had no preference.

Opt-in and anti-spam advocates questioned the survey results.

“Surveys routinely show consumers don't want commercial e-mail unless they ask for it,” said Jason Catlett, president of online privacy advocacy and consulting firm Junkbusters Corp., Green Brook, NJ.

Catlett noted the almost 5-1 ratio of opt-in to opt-out among consumers who had a preference. “Those who chose one or the other clearly chose opt-in,” he said.

He questioned the survey's definition of “no preference” and said, “Maybe they included people who had no response or people who didn't understand the question.”

This was not the case, according to Curtis. “It only consisted of people who answered 'no preference,' ” he said. “I think opt-in is popular with people unfamiliar with the Internet. I think confident Internet shoppers [don't care, because they] know how to opt out of lists they don't want to be on.”

Rodney Joffe of CenterGate Research Group LLC said the question and statistics were flawed because no definitions for opt-in or opt-out were given.

“They asked a question without providing a definition. No matter what the results were, the lack of definition makes it a waste. Not even the experts could tell you what was meant there by opt-in or opt-out,” he said.

Instead of focusing on the wording or the 72 percent majority, Andrew Barrett, media coordinator at the Forum for Responsible and Ethical E-mail, focused on the 5 percent who favored opt-out methods.

“If I was a marketer, this would be a slam dunk,” he said. “This means marketers can please 95 percent of their recipients by using opt-in.” Marketers can avoid the risk of upsetting their Internet service providers, violating laws in 16 states and being labeled spammers if they manage only opt-in lists.

Gene Brown, director at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Center for Direct Marketing Education and Research, conducted the survey. Because the survey consisted of Internet users on a double-opt-in list, Brown admitted that participants were probably less hostile to unsolicited e-mail than the average person.

“But marketers will see this from a segmentation point of view,” Brown said. “There is a segment of Internet shoppers out there that want as much information as they can get.”

While iCustomer Observer suggests that consumers are not overly worried about spam, Brown chose to purchase his prospect list from NetCreations' PostMasterDirect “because we didn't want to engage in any kind of spam.”

“We wouldn't ever advise anyone to send e-mail without using opt-in lists,” Brown said. Eighty-five percent of those who responded to the questionnaire agreed to take part in a survey panel and will answer more questions in the future, Curtis said.

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